Genetics as the Nexus of human personality

Through the eons, philosophers and scientists alike have mused about the multifaceted dimensions of the human psyche. With fervent endeavor, present minds are sparked by past ghosts in search of the ever-elusive ‘unified personality theory’— just as the future will bequeath even further effort. In my most humble attempt, I will unify the four major theories of the current time. Exempt of personal research, the focus will be on relating finished research and proposed concepts of others.

My proposal is that genetics is the nexus of personality and that all aspects of an individual are ultimately shaped by their genome directly or by the gene pool indirectly (with regard to evolutionary processes such as natural selection). The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘personality’ as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. ” This allows for an individual’s disposition to be readily submissive to rigorous study and experiment, albeit various aspects (behavioral) being more forthright and accessible than others (Freudian).

The first and most important theory I must address is that of Behaviorism. How does genetics come into play regarding Skinnerian and Pavlovian conditioning? In their famous genetic twin study experiment, Thomas Bouchard and David Lykken offer an intriguing explanation, among others, of their work. They propose that rather than the environment influencing people’s characteristics, the opposite occurs; people’s genetic endowments shape the environment they are in. A perfect example of this is that “variation in ‘affectionateness’ may be, in reality, genetically determined so that some children are just born more affectionate than others.

Their inborn tendency toward affectionate behavior causes them to respond to affection from their parents in was that reinforce the parents’ behavior much more than genetically non-affectionate children. This, in turn produces the affectionate behavior in the parents, not the other way around. ” (Hock, 2012, pg. 25) This is an ingenious application of the biological concept offered in Richard Dawkins’ book The Extended Phenotype. In the book, Dawkins explains that genes only give rise to proteins, yet we should not restrict the phenotype of the genotype only to immediate, physical characteristics.

The long reach of the gene, as Dawkins puts it, can change the environment in a number of ways. One example is that of a beaver whose genome allows for the behavior (one ‘selected’ by evolution) of building damns; we can consider that beaver damn (a changing of the environment) to be part of the ‘extended phenotype’ of the creature. Other examples include a bird’s nest or a termite’s mound. (Dawkins, 1982) It’s easy to see how genetics has a hand in shaping the environment for conditioning or if you like, conditioning the environment for shaping through fluctuations of a human populations gene pool.

A main tenet of the Humanistic personality theory asserts that humans are wholly unique. There is genetic evidence for such a statement because the amount of actual people alive and those that have lived vastly outnumber the set of possible human beings allowed by the incalculable combinations of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acids, otherwise known as DNA. The Humanistic theory also states the inherit goodness of all human beings; this can be explained through evolution and the inheriting of reciprocally altruistic yet ‘selfish’ genes in humans.

The “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” or tit-for-tat mentality is one that finely describes the pressure of ‘selfish’ genes to call for goodness. In situations where tit-for-tat can work (even with the occasional or perhaps frequent exploiter), it will be ‘chosen’ by the mechanism of natural selection. (Dawkins, 1989) One example is 100,000 years ago in the land of Africa, where the tribes were small, reciprocal altruism was of exceptional advantage.

In modern times and in big cities, it is unlikely that a good deed will be reciprocated but it has been pressed upon our genes for thousands of years to act in this way. (Dawkins, 2006) In Trait personality theory, the ancient Hippocrates attributed certain moods of one’s personality to four different bodily humors (Gill). Trait personality emphasizes the specific traits that are unchanging and universal across numerous situations. Such traits inevitably have a genetic origin that was evolved over a certain amount of time.

Could it be possible, rather than giving someone a test in order to identify degrees of traits from Big 5, for example, to ‘peek’ into the genome of an individual and find the corresponding genes and perhaps even the exact degree? It might be far-fetched but I’m sure it could one day be possible in a less extreme and less accurate manifestation. In regards to the Cognitive approach to personality, there is a rich genetic and evolutionary history. Cognitive personality theory explains the use of schemata to organize and process information about a human being’s experience in the world.

Imagine, once again, life around 100,000 years ago in the African plains. A warrior brandishing a spear stalks some distant species of a gazelle. Any reticence would be detrimental in deciding the fate of catching the meal and eating (and thus being able to survive and spread one’s genes). So rather having a mind that attempts to process information such as “where did this animal come from? ” or any other questions regarding the creature’s origin or characteristics, it would prove ‘fit’ if the hunter’s mind simply processed a scheme that read “a (the) god(s) put this animal here”.

This saves much time for more immediate matters the hunter needs to accomplish; making the kill and being a prodigious paterfamilias. (Dawkins, 2006) One could argue that this schema, which has almost unrecognizably mutated into organized religion, has become an essentially useless byproduct in modern times. The ambiguity of the Psychoanalytic theory of personality makes it arduous to pinpoint genetic or evolutionary examples. Fortunately, much of the Freud’s theory discusses various instinctual drives.

Genes are the underlying factor when it comes to instincts. One main principles of this theory is that the instincts of sex and aggression are within us all. These primitive urges are consequent of the inner most layers of the brain— The Reptilian Complex and the Limbic System. The R-complex, Carl Sagan explains, is the site for “aggressive behavior, territoriality, and the establishment of social hierarchies. ” The Limbic System is a mammalian structure that ignites passion, altruism, but more importantly, oral, gustatory and sexual functions (Murell).

These most ancient layers, of which the neo-cortex (the uppermost layer) has enveloped through evolution, are the closest thing to a physical demonstration of the ‘id’. Most dreams have the common theme of sex and/or aggression and this is precisely when mostly the R-complex and at times the Limbic System are most active and in control (during sleep). (Sagan, 1977) Though not with absolute accuracy, it is possible to correlate the 3 layers of the brain to Freud’s 3 layers of the unconscious; the id, ego, and superego.

Just as the superego is prone to guiding moral behavior of the ego, the Neo-cortex is responsible for similar qualities such as the knowledge of good and evil among other attributes. (Murrell) I have only begun to tap into the correlations between imperative theories of personality relating to genetics and an evolutionary history. Everything about the human psyche is due to varying forms of antecedent causes beyond our immediate control. We are slaves to genetic endowment, chemical environments of the brain, Pavlovian conditioning, and Skinnerian conditioning.

These factors engage in an elegant dance of ebb and flow, mystifying our mortal attempts at understanding the untold multitude of underlying factors. With hope, we can gaze into the instructions that give rise to these multifarious personalities and perhaps, once and for all, reach a unified mindset of understanding the human condition.

References Dawkins, R. (2006). The God delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dawkins, R. (1982). The Extended phenotype: The long reach of the gene. (30th anniversary ed.). Oxford University Press. Gill, N. S. (n. d. ).

Four humors. Retrieved from http://ancienthistory. about. com/cs/hippocrates/a/hippocraticmeds. htm Hock, R. (2012). Forty studies that changed psychology: Exploration into the history of psychological research. (7th ed. , p. 25). Pearson. Murrell, B. (n. d. ). Consciousness in the cosmos: Perspective of mind. Retrieved from http://www. bizcharts. com/stoa_del_sol/conscious/conscious5. html Sagan, C. (1977). The dragons of Eden: Speculations on the evolution of human intelligence. New York: Random House.

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